A mediator will assist with the ongoing contract negotiations between the Community Unit District 300 school board and the teachers union, which have failed to reach a solution in eights months of discussions.
No dates have been set for further negotiating sessions, but the school board in a news release Thursday said both sides were working to schedule meetings starting Sept. 6.
"Bringing in a negotiator should not be seen as a negative," school board member Joe Stevens said. "We are just following the new law. It should speed things up and help us reach a new agreement."
Under Senate Bill 7, which was approved last May, if the parties have not agreed on a new contract within 90 days of the beginning of the school year, mediation can be requested. The labor review board could also invoke mediation within 45 days of the new school year. Classes in District 300 start Monday.
The two sides agreed to a one-year contract in the spring of 2011 and that agreement expired July 1. However, the terms of the contract automatically rolled forward in the absence of a successor agreement.
Stevens said the two parties are "talking about everything" but that the district does not have a complete proposal from the union.
"We can't respond without knowing the full gamut of what they are asking," Stevens said. "We presented all of our proposals in March and we still don't have everything from them."
Representatives from LEAD300 did not return calls for comment Thursday.
An issue the district has raised is overload pay, or the extra pay teachers receive when class sizes exceed a certain number. Stevens said overload pay and the district's desire to eliminate the practice, has unfairly been described as a proposal to increase class sizes. But Stevens said the number of students in a class that would trigger overload pay does not have any bearing on a class size cap, which is the maximum number of students allowed before an additional teacher is added.
"What may be confusing is that we would like to increase the threshold before overload pay would kick in," Stevens said. "But that would not affect class sizes."
In 2010-2011, the district paid 340 teachers $1.28 million in overload pay and about $800,000 in the 2011-2012 school year.
"As previously stated, the board would very much like to lower class sizes," a news release from the district said. "But if the board were to reduce the class sizes by an average of one student per class, it would cost the district approximately $1 million to $1.4 million a year. This annual cost would need to be absorbed either through contract negotiations or elsewhere in the district budget."